To start with, a couple of lists:
Number of full weeks: 11
Total number of miles run: 924
Average number of miles per week: 84
Proportion of distance home run: 25%
Books read waiting for red blood cells to multiply: 13
A few things I’ve seen here that I probably won’t see back in England:
– A sheep being worn as a backpack. This is achieved by draping the sheep’s front legs over your shoulders and tying them its hind legs, which are around your waist. My favourite exponent of this technique was also riding a bike. The sheep didn’t actually seem too concerned by the arrangement.
– Strangers who are dining alone in restaurants being invited to join other groups. This is often very insistent – people here seem slightly offended by people eating alone. When I went out for dinner with Mersha, Gudisa and Anthony on Thursday evening, Mersha invited a woman to join us and then proceeded to feed her mouthfuls of injera (from his hand) across the table. Apparently this is completely normal here.
– The driver of a minibus stopping for five minutes to continue to flirt with a female passenger who wanted to get out, in spite of the protests of other passengers. Eventually he locked the door and told her she couldn’t leave until he had her phone number. Luckily, she seemed to think this was charming and complied, so we were able to continue our journey!
– Red wine mixed in equal parts with coca cola. As I’m assuming this must be necessary to make Ethiopian wine drinkable, I haven’t bothered to taste it on its own.
– “Spriss”. This literally means ‘mixture’, and refers to a shot of espresso in a cup of tea. Richard actually quite liked it when he was here.
– Exclusively positive heckling from members of the public whilst running – as mentioned before, ‘izo ambessa’ is a personal favourite, but ‘Haile! Haile!’ or ‘appreciate boy!’ are still better than the singularly unimaginative ‘run Forest run!’ that you get in England.
‘What I Talk About When I Talk About Running’ – A few reasons why I run, as I don’t think I’ve explained this in any other posts:
– Running is one of the only activities with which you can reach 95% of your potential by investing only two hours a day – it’s good to have something that you know you are doing about as well as you can do it.
– I’m a better person to be around when I’ve been for a run. I wouldn’t want to spend too much time with me if I’d not been running for a couple of days.
– Thinking time. When I’m running my mind tends to work differently – instead of thinking of practical things, it usually wanders in a way similar to during meditation or just before sleeping. On top of this, running seems to oxygenate the brain, and I always feel more alert for a couple of hours afterwards.
– Stress relief. I’ve managed to avoid living a particularly stressful life for 24 years, but whenever I do feel a bit on edge, running sorts it out. I think it was Haile who said he thought the world’s mental health would be better if everyone spent half an hour a day running, and I’m sure he’s right.
– Running is the best way of exploring new places. Whenever I visit a city in Europe, I feel like I get a better impression of the place by running for an hour at dawn than by walking around during the day – and I probably cover more ground that way too.
– Apart from boxing (the other sport that embodies an adrenal reaction) sport doesn’t get any simpler. It’s not governed by money and facilities (like cycling, rowing or any of the other sports that Britain does well in). This means that it is far more accessible and egalitarian than most other sports – a good thing in spite of the fact that it makes it extremely difficult to succeed in!
My last really hard session of the trip was a split 8km tempo run, with a 5km followed by a 3km on a flat road in Sabata. Apparently they’ve succeeded in turning me into a proper Habesha runner as I now share the other runners’ aversion to running on the road. I’m probably going to have to get used to it again when I get back to England, but having spent such a lot of my time running in forests and on grassland, the road feels very unforgiving, and my legs felt like they’d taken quite a hammering from the session. I managed to run 16.01 for the 5km, though, at the end of a hard week’s training. Mersha says this will make running 15 minutes for the first 5km of a 10km race at sea-level feel comfortable – I’ll be testing his hypothesis in six days time.
My last two weeks of training:
Sunday May 6th 12 miles steady.
Monday May 7th AM – 8 miles steady. PM – 4 miles. Hail storm.
Tuesday May 8th AM – 12 x 90 seconds with 90 seconds recovery. PM – 5 miles on the treadmill.
Wednesday May 9th AM – 8 miles steady. PM – 5 miles on the treadmill.
Thursday May 10th AM – 8 miles of fartlek. Tired. PM – 6 miles steady. Felt good.
Friday May 11th AM – 8 miles easy. PM – 5 miles steady.
Saturday May 12th AM – 15 x 220m with 40 seconds recovery. PM – 6 miles.
Total – 88 miles.
Sunday May 13th 13 miles steady.
Monday May 14th AM – 8 miles easy. PM – 4 miles easy.
Tuesday May 15th AM – 5 sets of 3 minutes hard, 1 minute recovery, 1 minute hard with 2 minutes between sets. PM – 4.5 miles on the treadmill with Haile!
Wednesday May 16th AM – 8 miles steady. PM – 4.5 miles steady.
Thursday May 17th AM – 4 sets of 300m, 500m with 3 minutes between each rep on the track. PM – 4.5 miles on the treadmill.
Friday May 18th AM – 8 miles steady. PM – 4 miles steady.
Saturday May 19th AM – 5 km hard in 16.01, 7 minutes recovery, 3km in 9.40. PM – 4 miles steady.
Total – 84 miles.
Jogging back to Mersha for feedback between reps.
Following the track session I did last week, he told me that he wants me to come back to Ethiopia for six months to train, and to live with him so that he can make sure I rest ‘properly’ and eat like an athlete. He was unimpressed when I told him that I thought I probably had a few other things I needed to do besides run. He reckons six months is the minimum amount of time needed to make an ‘extraordinary improvement’. I should, he said, could come back and train with ‘this group’ (he gestured towards the group he was timing after I’d finished, which included Tariku Bekele and Imane Merga). That would certainly represent the ‘extraordinary’ improvement he was talking about! Whilst I appreciate his enthusiasm I don’t think any amount of intensity on the part of the coach could get me running as quick as they were, as they were running 3km reps at altitude fast enough to win BMC races in the UK. When I explained this to him, he just sighed and asked me to send the British runners to Ethiopia. It’s been good to constantly have the improvements I’ve been making put into perspective by the other runners around here – going back to Maiden Castle this will be done for me by Max (my coach) but not as directly. In Durham, the comparison tends to have a temporal element – to the runners from Gateshead Harriers who used to train there and whose times Max sometimes even has written down for comparison.
There will be a couple more blog posts after my return home about what the come down is like after spending three months at 2,400m. Hope everyone’s enjoyed the blog!